Note, SPOILERS for the Captain America franchise below, along with some comics.
Could this be the end of Captain America as we know him? If you ask a certain wintry soldier - it just might be.
With all the talk of Chris Evans considering a wholesale retirement from acting, there's been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Sebastian Stan, aka Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, might find himself donning the red white and blue of Cap's uniform one day.
That day might be getting closer and closer - at least if Stan has any say in the matter. Appearing at the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con recently, he was asked whether he'd like to take over as Captain America someday. His answer was...clear cut
“Yes...Yeah, I’ll do it right now. Look, it’s not up to me. I’m just showing up when they’re calling me. I means that’s it. But I wouldn't mind a little Black Widow/Winter Soldier story happening.”
Which, of course, doesn't mean that there's any guarantee of it happening - 'actor would like bigger part' isn't exactly earth-shattering news on the face of it - but it does suggest that the issue - that of a post-Chris Evans Marvel Cinematic Universe - is one that those involved in the Captain America series are aware of.
That Pesky Franchise Conundrum:
Marvel's biggest problem over the next few years - recent Ant-Man issues aside - is likely to be the awkward transition from the heroes they've introduced in the MCU so far, to the ones that will inevitably have to succeed them. Robert Downey Jr will eventually give up the Iron Man suit, Mark Ruffalo is unlikely to be playing the Hulk in his late fifties, and Chris Evans has, by all accounts, absolutely no interest in playing Cap beyond 2017.
Some of these characters will most likely be recast - possibly multiple times.
However, barring a full reboot, which would jar with Marvel's expanded universe ethos, the likelihood is that others will be replaced by alternative individuals donning the same iconic suit.
Other individuals, perhaps, who have already been introduced to the MCU - and tied down to incredibly long contracts.
Individuals, then, an awful lot like Sebastian Stan, who has himself suggested that he's been contracted by Marvel for the (very) long term.
And the funny thing is, the story-line that Marvel Studios have begun with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and are set to continue in Captain America 3, looks likely to lead directly to that precise, Stan-as-Cap scenario.
Cue comic-book flashback sequence No. 1:
1945. The final days of World War II. Captain America and James 'Bucky' Barnes are fighting one of their greatest foes, Baron Zemo, who's attempting to launch an experimental drone warplane. The scene might be strangely, if indirectly, recognizable for those who've seen Captain America. The difference is that this time Bucky, who in the comics wasn't killed by falling off a train, attempts to defuse a bomb aboard that drone. He manages to stop it from hitting its intended target, but only through it exploding in mid-air, seemingly killing the young sidekick, and flinging Captain America into the icy water, not to be seen for several decades.
Bucky, though, didn't die.
Instead, in a manner not a million miles away from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he was found (and brainwashed) by the Russians, and transformed into The Winter Soldier. Decades of covert missions follow, with Barnes becoming one of the most formidable assassins in the world - and romancing the Black Widow in the process. In the 1970s, though, he disappears.
Cue comic-book flashback sequence No. 2:
That is, until 2005, when he returns - leading a terrorist attack on Philadelphia. After killing hundreds of people, and kidnapping Cap's girlfriend, his programming is eventually reversed - and he remembers who he is. All of which plays out to a background of Hydra having long ago infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.
So far, so vaguely familiar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier viewers. What comes next, though, might just the most important part:
After Steve Rogers is assassinated (during the excellent Civil War crossover event, which mirrored many of the themes of the latest Captain America film) Bucky himself becomes Captain America, following in his best friend's footsteps until Rogers eventually - and inevitably - turns out to be alive after all.
What does this mean for the films?
In the short term this might not alter all that much - but in the mid term, everything could change. The fact that the Russo brothers are set to return to direct Captain America 3 along with the expectation that the story is set to be a direct continuation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn't necessarily mean we'll see Stan return as Barnes. The fact that he appears at the end of the film, clearly surviving? That pretty much does.
Whether or not that story sees the death of Steve Rogers (which, with another Avengers movie not too long after seems unlikely), the underlying moment to which it will be building will still be that of Bucky, for however long, taking over as Captain America. If not at the end of Captain America 3, then most likely at the conclusion to The Avengers 3. It would let Chris Evans step down in spectacular fashion, provide an inexpensive replacement, and open up an eventual return of Steve Rogers - whenever Marvel decides to recast.
And if you're still in any doubt, there's one final clue. The shield. Why else do you think Bucky's ended up using Cap's shield in both movies so far?
[Captain America 3](movie:994409) is set for release May 6, 2016.
What do you guys think? Will we see Bucky take over as Captain America?